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Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

Liberal Quakerism's Eroded Peace Testimony

It is by subjection to the Light that ‘the exacter and violent doer in them might be thrown out: and they that had been hypocrites, might come to bring forth first fruits of repentance, and their mountain of sin and earthliness might be laid low in them…’ (George Fox, Journal, p32). This is a timely reminder of the obligation, set out by early Friends, to wage the Lamb’s war of resistance against the forces of violence, militarism, and hypocrisy. Some Liberal Quakers deflower the peace testimony in the name of psychology and rationalism. Others subject it to relativist revisionism. For many, consent or denial of the peace testimony is optional. The only absolute recognised is that of the vicissitude of the individual’s notions and phantoms. Why are many today not willing to ‘seal with my blood’ (Fox, Journal, p493) the Quaker ‘witness against all violence’ (p493)? Perhaps understanding of the realm of Force has been diminished? For what does connivance with it entail? Consent to violence transforms a living being into an inert fragment of matter; likewise, concupiscence ossifies the soul into inert matter. In the realm of Force both vanquished and vanquisher are subject to this demiurgic transformation. We must not forget that ‘violence overwhelms those it touches. In the end, it seems as external to the one who wields it as to the one who endures it. Here is born the notion of a destiny under which executioners and their victims are similarly innocent: conquerors and conquered are brothers in the same misery, each a heartache to the other’ (Simone Weil, The Iliad or the Poem of Force, p57).

Force wants to impose itself everywhere. It demolishes the Christian witness of the Testimonies: by setting up another being as an enemy the testimony to equality is destroyed. Its eschatological meaning is denied in setting oneself up as the enforcer of a judgement which uses carnal weapons in order to obscure a greater Judgement at hand. The testimony to Truth is likewise destroyed in the process. In Truth, equality, and the Spirit of Christ, admitting to the false oppositions (and consciousness) born of violence and its geometric concupiscence, is to worship a false god. Consent to violence makes a person dwell in the ranks of those which Revelation describes as seeking death but being denied it.

Against this assault on the prophetic foundations laid by early Friends we have to remain clear-sighted enough to proclaim that the Testimonies are eschatological incisions in time, space, and mortality. They are the marks of the Lamb’s teeth curtailing the cult of concupiscence and reproving the wrath of humanity, greed, acquisitiveness, and complacence. If we are to maintain the covenant of peace, then let us reaffirm with courage: ‘It is impossible to love and to be just unless one understands the realm of force and knows enough not to respect it’ (Simone Weil, The Iliad or the Poem of Force, p67). Lewis Benson summed it up perfectly: ‘When we walk contrary to the customs of the world, our behaviour should indicate that our singularity is a consequence of hearing a word that comes from God’ (The Future of Quakerism Part 3).We may then ‘witness the crown that is immortal that fades not away, from him who to all your souls is a friend, for establishing of righteousness and cleansing the land of evil doers, and a witness against all wicked inventions of men and murderous plots, which answered shall be with the light in all your consciences, which makes no covenant with death, to which light in you all I speak, and am clear’ (George Fox, Journal, p493).

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Comment by Ellis Hein on 11thMo. 6, 2018 at 14:20

I am often reminded of what Lewis Benson told me, namely that all the testimonies of the early Friends were testimonies to the power of Christ at work in and among them. I do not know of any branch of Quakerism that holds that view of the testimonies in general or the peace testimony in particular. (I am most familiar with Liberals and Evangelicals, not so much with Conservatives.)  For example see the passage from Vol. I, p.112 of Fox's Works: 

The time of my commitment to the house of correction being very near out, and there being many new soldiers raised, the commissioners would have made me captain over them ; and the soldiers cried, they would have none but me. So the keeper of the house of correction was commanded to bring me before the commissioners and soldiers in the market place ; where they offered me that preferment, as they called it, asking me, if I would not take up arms for the commonwealth against Charles Stuart? I told them I knew from whence all wars arose, even from the lusts, according to James's doctrine ; and that I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars. Yet they courted me to accept of their offer, and thought I did but compliment them. But I told them I was come into the covenant of peace, which was before wars and strifes were.

There is no other virtue than the life and power of Christ that can take away the occasion of all wars from the human heart.

So, what happens when we move away from that original foundation for our testimony? We are left with a set of rules by which we try to live our lives. We have lost the virtue, the heart contains the occasion of war, and all our outward efforts will not avail to overcome those lusts from which wars arise. It is like buying a car where the motor is considered an unnecessary option. The power is not present.

Among the Evangelicals during World War II there were a number who acknowledged the peace testimony, but proclaimed they did not let that interfere with their patriotic duty to bear arms against the enemy. The Evangelicals talk endlessly of being born again, but the early Friends' testimony had its rise from a different birth. Edward Burrough wrote in his introduction to Fox's Vol. III.

But of that birth are we which hath no crown, no glory, nor rest under the sun: a birth is brought forth amongst us which is heir of another kingdom, and possessor of another crown, whose glorying is in the Lord all the day long; and he is our refuge, our rock, and our fortress against all our enemies. And what though the wicked arm themselves, and the ungodly bend their bow?—what though all sorts of people, from the prince upon his throne to the beggar upon the dung-hill, exalt themselves against the despised people of the Lord's inheritance, who, for his name's sake, are killed all the day long?—what though the wise men bring forth their arguments, and the rulers bring forth unrighteous judgments against the seed that God hath blessed ?—what though the revilers and scorners open their mouths, and reproachers and revilers cast out their bitter words as a flood against the remnant of the woman's seed, that hath long been fled into the wilderness?—and what if the teachers, the prophets, and the elders, and the heads, and wise men of the world set themselves to pray, and preach, and print against the chosen seed of Jacob?—Notwithstanding all this, though this is come to pass, and hell open her mouth, and her floods break forth to overflow, and be much more increased; yet shall the King of righteousness rule among his people, and his presence will not forsake his chosen ones.

This is a very interesting topic that has a lot of depth to it.

Comment by Blake Jerome Everitt on 11thMo. 6, 2018 at 20:11

'So, what happens when we move away from that original foundation for our testimony? We are left with a set of rules by which we try to live our lives. We have lost the virtue, the heart contains the occasion of war, and all our outward efforts will not avail to overcome those lusts from which wars arise. It is like buying a car where the motor is considered an unnecessary option. The power is not present.'

This sums up the key issue very well indeed. The Liberal Friends I have consistently heard categorise the testimonies as optional parts of a menu set by the vain fashions of secularist/individualist/intellectual ethics testify to the loss of the motor power behind them. 

Thank you for pointing out the Edward Burrough quote also.

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